Winter’s worst exposed Range Rover Sports’ shortcomings
summit daily auto writer
Over the past few years, I believe I’ve told you pretty much everything there is to know about Range Rover Sport’s status symbol-heavy charm and its goat-like off-road prowess.
Loaded down with enough succulent leather to make a dozen high-end women’s handbags and a hardwood-embossed interior resplendent of a 1930s cabin cruiser, the automobile is indeed the kind of thing that’s going to impress the ladies at Earl’s in Cherry Creek.
But, drive the new Range Rover Sport through six hours of long-awaited snow on one of those busy I-70 weekends and a few minor wrinkles appear to slightly tarnish the fantastically sublime experience. They’re issues of practicality, which might not be the point with a $70,000 automobile, but they did loom large this time, my first full winter test window for the vehicle.
A new base-level engine, a 5.0-liter V8 producing 375 horsepower, is quite the piece of engineering: Noisy in a good, old-fashioned, big block kind of way, impressively powerful for all 5,700 pounds of vehicle but capable of either 6 mpg uphill or (perhaps) 20 mpg, downhill, all on premium fuel.
The window sticker says 12 city, 17 highway, and my real-world testing confirms those figures, which put it in the same league as Lamborghini for lack of frugality. Those feeling a little short on power can upgrade to the 510-horespower supercharged version, and burn through the dinosaur juice even more quickly.
The 2010 refresh to the Sport’s navigation and instrumentation is mostly successful, though a new, cigarette pack-sized screen between the speedometer and tachometer didn’t reveal a ton of extra information (coolant temperature and your rapidly dwindling fuel supply), although there is a whole new knob on the steering wheel to … uh … control that empty screen. Odd.
Also new this year is a 360-degree-view system of cameras, located underneath the mirrors and in the front and back, designed for safe rock crawling but more likely to be used while parking. Try to watch them while the car is at highway speed and you’ll get carsick in about six seconds.
The other issues emerged as myself and a 6-foot-2 friend made the commute up to his compound in Bellyache, high above Edwards. The Range Rover Sport’s seating position is just a little too high for me (the proper methodology seemed to be to hop in, butt first, and then swing my legs inside), but my not-exactly-gigantic friend found he couldn’t fit inside the car at all, even with the command-style seating cranked as far back as possible. As a result, we also could not use the fold-forward-and-drop second row seating space to store snowboards and skis, and still have a normal-sized passenger up front, so we precariously dangled stuff over the top of the back seat.
The biggest rub came with all that snow. Despite the terrific Terrain Response System, which dials up throttle, braking and air suspension settings to react to road conditions, the Sport (riding on more-than-adequate, 20-inch all-season tires) felt especially squirrelly in greasy-melty snow, nearly got stuck in a foot of fresh powder and did not even pretend to stick to hard-packed snow whatsoever. My buddy drives an F-250 that weighs even more than the Range Rover and he’s learned to take corners at 3 miles per hour; the lack of poise on slippery surfaces was a major let-down, one I imagine better snow tires might ameliorate.
Finally, the old bugaboo – the liftgate – really started to bother me after many, many miles in mag chloride-coated mode. For whatever reason, one simply cannot open the tailgate (or even the smaller inset window) without getting your hand coated in a thick film of road goo. Pressing the liftgate release button does indeed unlock the mechanism, but you still have to reach down and pull up the quite heavy gate by hand (and even dowdy old Dodge has figured that one out).
All of which, as I say, were slightly disappointing reality checks for one fantastically appointed, wonderfully stylish and verifiably (during the summer, at least) off-road-capable machine.
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